By Tom Ehrich
Hats off to church leaders who are sending e-mail newsletters, rather than wasting money and effort on paper. Every week I get a new example – and I would be happy to receive more.
Movement to e-letters will improve impact and pave the way for even more uses of digital technology, such as niche e-letters for groups, e-marketing, surveys and polls, pastor’s blogs, and expanding use of social media.
Next step will be to strive for excellence in what you send, not just transferring same-old content from paper to electronic, but using the unique power and capabilities of new media.
I receive too many e-letters that are just bulletin-board postings rendered digital. They are too wordy, use the same photos week in and week out, display in portrait format (like 8.5 x 11 sheets pinned to cork), rather the web’s landscape format, and use screen real estate poorly.
Many are still “provider driven,” telling the reader what the institution is doing and thinking, rather the more effective approach of “customer-driven,” trying to anticipate the reader’s needs and interests.
Here is an example of content that works. It’s fromBroad Street Ministry, in Philadelphia. Interspersed are my comments explaining why it works.
(BSM’s piece in italics, my comments in regular):
- Every Sunday, our community gathers to hear God’s whisper breathed anew through diverse musical traditions, prayers of joy and sorrow, challenging preaching, and communion that welcomes everyone to Christ’s table.
- Not only poetic, but fresh: this isn’t your grandmother’s church. Key words – community, gather, diverse, joy and sorrow, challenge, welcome – speak to people’s lives, especially young adults.
- Some of us come with such weight on our souls that we can barely stand upright, exhausted from the day’s journey. Others come with smiling, hugging, warm jubilation that cannot be contained. Still others come knowing that this place holds a piece of them, but unsure where exactly they fit in the mosaic of faces and voices.
- Customer-driven, customer-aware. We imagine you and care about you. All starting points are valid, all life experiences, all emotions. You can expect to see it all – with room for you.
- Whether you’re distracted, steadfast, frazzled, empowered, or somewhere in between, you are welcome in this place.
- Focus on “you” (reader), not “us” (sender.) We are here for you.
- Come and praise the God who loves us unconditionally. Come and listen for a Word from a God spoken just for you. Come, and worship.
- Brief statement of theology without suggesting doctrine or litmus tests.
- We extend the table fellowship from communion into a dinner served family-style after worship,
- where we get to know each other a little better as we share a delicious meal.
- Not churchy, but people-oriented. Conveys the centrality of forming community, still the primary reason people come to a church.
An effective e-letter acknowledges two fundamental shifts. In the era of papers posted on a bulletin board, real marketing took place in the parking lot before and after Sunday worship. Bulletin boards were for “covering your flank.” Today, however, parking lot marketing only reaches a few insiders. E-marketing reaches a much larger audience, especially the growing majority for whom Sunday worship isn’t their connection with the faith community.
The other shift is that many don’t know why church should matter to them. They need to be shown.